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  Life   More Features  27 Sep 2018  Behind the seams

Behind the seams

THE ASIAN AGE. | VANESSA VIEGAS
Published : Sep 27, 2018, 12:24 am IST
Updated : Sep 27, 2018, 12:24 am IST

The eventual goal of this endeavour is to help these local women take complete ownership of the project and run it independently.

To begin with, Stefano points out that upcycling is different from recycling and most people can confuse the two processes.
 To begin with, Stefano points out that upcycling is different from recycling and most people can confuse the two processes.

Italian born Stefano Funari has always wanted to create a self-sustaining social enterprise that was by and for its underprivileged beneficiaries— all without relying exclusively on grants and donations. But the challenges involved in combining the two halves were aplenty. In 2013, “purely by chance”, he says, he ended up in Mumbai Central at a tiny workshop  in Chor Bazaar which was jam-packed with bundles of old saris. The sight of it fascinated him and an idea took shape in his head, “Though I am no designer, I was overwhelmed by the variety and beauty of the material,” says Stefano who formerly worked at a Swiss corporate before quitting his job to dedicate his time to social work in Mumbai. At that moment in Mumbai Central, the 50-year-old immediately realized that upcycling these saris could be an interesting way to pursue his ideas and create income-generating opportunities for underprivileged women.

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To begin with, Stefano points out that upcycling is different from recycling and most people can confuse the two processes. For the past few years, upcycling has become the word du jour in fashion circles and involves making aesthetically appealing changes to a product. Therefore, getting that part right became extremely important to him. But he soon realised that he lacked the necessary skills to kick-start the process. “I then pitched the idea to Fashion in Process (FIP), a multidisciplinary research collective within the Design Department at Politecnico di Milano and in a few months, we started working on this idea and came out with a collection of textile and jewels in 2013,” he informs.

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I was a Sari initially started with a group of 20 underprivileged women from Dharavi that made chic contemporary items such as shopping bags, beaded necklaces and earrings, from old saris. “In the beginning, the women had no understanding about what quality meant, or why you must respect deadlines or what must one do to survive in the marketplace. On top of that, you have to deal with very low productivity that comes from many reasons, especially because these women are not in control of their lives and so they can give a limited amount of time and cannot guarantee their attendance,” narrates Stefano.  All these factors contributed to efficiency and quality issues for I was a sari initially.

“So the moment you want to play fair or pay the artisans fair salaries, you realise you have no way to compete in the market.” But as time progressed, these issues began to iron themselves out and what started as a mere experiment by Stefano, turned out into a potential business opportunity. “In 2017, I had to take a cal, whether to kill it or give it to some NGO or try to scale the business,” he says.

It was at this point; Community Outreach Programme (CORP) India   was handed over the responsibilty of   of training these women.  The other NGO being the Animedh Charitable Trust (ACT) that partners with the label. “The production is completely outsourced to the NGOs who are responsible for selecting the artisans, choosing the material, taking up quality checks and giving them training. So, our partner NGOs’ are now managing the women,” he informs.

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The eventual goal of this endeavour is to help these local women take complete ownership of the project and run it independently. “At the moment, we have more than 70 women, some full time and some on a part-time basis. We also have a zero-dividend company called 2nd Innings Handicrafts, where 100 per cent of the profits are reinvested in the company and I was a Sari now operates under this company.”

Around a year and a half ago, the brand was also approached by Gucci Equilibrium as part of their CSR global initiative that is a destination designed to connect people, planet and purpose, “This collaboration has been an important recognition for us and their vision was in line with our approach and values,” he says.

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At the moment, I was a Sari and Gucci is working on a collection that involves underprivileged women in the embroidery industry in Mumbai and their collaborative collection will be released before Christmas this year. “So what we are doing for the last four months is, we have selected 25 women who have done embroidery before and have trained them under  the four major strategic embroidery providers for Gucci in Mumbai,” he shares.

Having received through training, these women now know more than just the basics. And while embroidery in India is a completely male-dominated industry, Stefano says, “We now have a point to prove and this project we are running with Gucci is basically to understand and ideally to prove that women can also be part of the embroidery supply chain,” he signs off.

Tags: social work, fashion in process, community outreach programme